_*Steps to a theory of reference & significance in information
*_*FIS discussion paper by Terrence W. Deacon (2015)*

This is the link to download the whole paper: https://www.dropbox.com/s/v5o8pwx3ggmmmnb/FIS%20Deacon%20on%20information%20v2.pdf?dl=0

/"The mere fact that the same mathematical expression - Σ pi log pi occurs both in statistical mechanics and in information theory does not in itself establish any connection between these fields. This can be done only by finding new viewpoints from which thermodynamic entropy and information-theory entropy appear as the same concept." /(Jaynes 1957, p. 621)

/"What I have tried to do is to turn information theory upside down to make what the engineers call 'redundancy' [coding syntax ] but I call 'pattern' into the primary phenomenon. . . . “/ (Gregory Bateson, letter to John Lilly on his dolphin research, 10/05/1968)

In common use and in its etymology the term ‘information’ has always been associated with concepts of reference and significance—that is to say it is about something for some use. But following the landmark paper by Claude Shannon in 1948 (and later developments by Wiener, Kolmogorov, and others) the technical use of the term became almost entirely restricted to refer to signal properties of a communication medium irrespective of reference or use. In the introduction to this seminal report, Shannon points out that although communications often have meaning, “These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem” which is to provide a precise engineering tool to assess the computational and physical demands
of the transmission, storage, and encryption of communications in all forms.

The theory provided a way to precisely measure these properties as well as to determine limits on compression, encryption, and error correction. By a sort of metonymic shorthand this quantity (measured in bits) came to be considered synonymous with the meaning of ‘information’ (both in the technical literature and in colloquial use in the IT world) but at the cost
of inconsistency with its most distinctive defining attributes.

This definition was, however, consistent with a tacit metaphysical principle assumed in the contemporary natural sciences: the assertion that only material and energetic properties can be assigned causal power and that appeals to teleological explanations are illegitimate. This methodological framework recognizes that teleological explanations merely assign a locus of cause but fail to provide any mechanism, and so they effectively mark a point where explanation ceases. But this stance does not also entail a denial of the reality of teleological forms of causality nor does it require that they can be entirely reduced to intrinsic material and energetic

Reference and significance are both implicitly teleological concepts in the sense that they require an interpretive context (i.e. a point of view) and are not intrinsic to any specific physical substrate (e.g. in the way that mass and charge are). By abstracting the technical definition of information away from these extrinsic properties Shannon provided a concept of information that could be used to measure a formal property that is inherent in all physical phenomena: their organization. Because of its minimalism, this conception of information became a precise and widely applicable analytic tool that has fueled advances in many fields, from fundamental physics to genetics to computation. But this strength has also has undermined its usefulness in fields distinguished by the need to explain the non-intrinsic properties associated with information. This has limited its value for organismal biology where function is fundamental, for the cognitive sciences where representation is a central issue, and for the social sciences where normative assessment seem unavoidable. So this technical redefinition of information has been
both a virtue and a limitation.

The central goal of this essay is to demonstrate that the previously set aside (and presumed nonphysical) properties of reference and significance (i.e. normativity) can be re-incorporated into a rigorous formal analysis of information that is suitable for use in both the physical (e.g. quantum theory, cosmology, computation theory) and semiotic sciences (e.g. biology, cognitive science, economics). This analysis will build on Shannon’s formalization of information, but will extend it to explicitly model its link to the statistical and thermodynamic properties of its physical context and to the physical work of interpreting it. It is argued that an accurate analysis of the non-intrinsic attributes that distinguish information from mere physical differences is not only feasible, but necessary to account for its distinctive form of causal efficacy.

Initial qualitative and conceptual steps toward this augmentation of information theory have been outlined in a number of recent works (Deacon 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012; Deacon & Koutroufinis, 2012; Deacon , Bacigaluppi & Srivastava, 2014). In these studies we hypothesize that both a determination of reference and a measure of significance or functional value can be formulated in terms of how the extrinsic physical modification of an information bearing medium affects the dynamics of an interpreting system that exhibits intrinsically end-directed
and self-preserving properties.


A model system
To test these principles and their relationship to reference and significance, I and my colleagues have conceived of an empirically realizable and testable thought experiment. As in most efforts to formalize basic physical properties it is useful to begin with a simple model system in which all aspects of the process can be unambiguously represented. For our purposes we describe a theoretical molecular system called an autogen, which maintains itself against degradation by reconstituting damaged components and reconstituting system integrity. This model system involves an empirically realizable molecular complex described previously (Deacon 2012; also in Deacon & Cashman 2012; and also called an autocell in Deacon 2006a,
2007; 2009; and Deacon & Sherman 2008).


In this way we can use formal and simulated versions of autogenesis to develop a measure of relative significance, in the form of “work saved.” I hypothesize that this simple model system exemplifies the most basic dynamical system upon which a formal analysis of informational
interpretation and significance can be based.


In both forms, modifications of the autogenic process is provided with information referring to its own preservation via boundary conditions (external or internal) that are predictive of successful self-preservation. The significance of information of either sort is assessed by the relative minimization of work per work cycle, and therefore the decreased uncertainty of selfreferential constraint preservation. In this way interpretation is analogous to the decrease in uncertainty that is a measure of received information in Shannonian theory, but at a teleodynamic
system level.

Using these three variants of a simple model system I claim that we can precisely analyze the relationships between information medium properties, intrinsically end-directed work, and the way these enable system-extrinsic physical conditions to become referential information significant to system ends. These relationships are not only simple enough to formalize, but they can be simulated by computer algorithms at various levels of logical and physical detail. I believe that creating and experimenting with these simulated autogenic systems will enable us to reframe the mysteries of reference and significance as tractable problems, susceptible to exact formal and empirical analysis. This is still a far cry from a theory of information that is sufficiently developed to provide a basis for a scientific semiotic theory much less than an explanation of how human brains interpret information, but it may offer a rigorous physical
foundation upon which these more complex theories can be developed.

*— Terry*
Professor Terrence W. Deacon
University of California, Berkeley

Pedro C. Marijuán
Grupo de Bioinformación / Bioinformation Group
Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud
Centro de Investigación Biomédica de Aragón (CIBA)
Avda. San Juan Bosco, 13, planta X
50009 Zaragoza, Spain
Tfno. +34 976 71 3526 (& 6818)

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